Sunday, November 3, 2013

Famous Dave's Bar-B-Que

Non-Quest BBQ No 42 – Famous Dave’s Bar-B-Que
El Paso, Texas

During my occasional travels, I try to sample BBQ at those near and far away places outside the Quest area. I just really, really like that stuff ... 

Texas is, of course, a big state. You’ll find deserts in there, as well as woodlands, pasture lands, big cities, one horse towns, hills and mountains, valleys and plateaus. And as diverse as its landscape the cuisine is, too. From steak to enchiladas, from green chili to potatoes, from beer to wine, they have everything there. And naturally, they also have BBQ. They often use mesquite instead of hickory as fuel for the smokers, and because Texas is certainly more famous for its cattle than its hogs, they generally excel at beef more than at pork.
El Paso is something special, even in this heterogeneous state. It close proximity to Mexico, the exchange of ideas, people, and recipes over decades, as well as the fact that today over eighty percent of the population are of Hispanic decent, has created a cuisine that is heavily Mexican-oriented. Since slow smoking of meat is not a staple of that particular kitchen culture, there are only relatively few original BBQ restaurants for a city of that size, and of course there are some restaurants of BBQ franchises there.

Famous Dave’s Bar-B-Que is one of those franchises, having a whopping 195 restaurants from Arkansas to Wyoming – though none in Alabama yet. And I guess that all look the same, a mixture of your typical neighborhood family steakhouse and an angler’s trophy case.
In El Paso, they have two locations, and I went to the one on North Mesa, right off I-10.
It was Sunday around noon, and the place was packed with El Pasoians, with Cowboy hats all around me and half the people wearing Dallas Cowboys shirts. It was a very pleasant surprise that my server was wearing a Tennessee Titans shirt, me being a Titans fan and all – made me feel a little homesick.

As usual, I ordered the pork plate, which at Famous Dave’s they inexplicably call “Georgia Chopped Pork”. I’ve been to BBQ joints in Georgia, and they don’t usually chop their pork. On the other hand, since that’s what they seem to do in Mississippi, I surmised that them Texans just got their geography mixed up. Georgia, Mississippi, same difference – all in the dirty South, might as well be one state after all, who knows, who cares. Anyway, as sides I chose baked beans and, on the suggestion of the server, Mac’n’Cheese. The plate also comes with a corn bread muffin, which has, of course, green and red chili in it. Not my cup of tea, I do not really like the mixture of sweet cornbread with spicy stuff. But in El Paso and vicinity it is next to impossible to avoid spicy ingredients in places where you least expect them.
So, I took a bite and that was that. I also tried the BBQ chips with Sweet’n’Zesty sauce that is served as are chips and salsa in Mexican restaurants. The chips are tasty, but also made with a lot of spices. Carramba, are they trying to kill all non-natives with their cooking? And then they have six different BBQ sauces at Famous Dave’s: Georgia Mustard, Texas Pit, Sweet’n’Zesty, Rich&Sassy, Wilbur’s Revenge, and Devil’s Spit.
If your tongue is not laced with leather or impregnated with Teflon, stay away from most of those. It is good sense to avoid any sauce that has the words “Revenge” or “Devil” in it anyway. The other four are not as hot, but still pack a punch, more or less. I decided to stay with the Georgia Mustard sauce, which is also spicy, of course, but not as much and it has a very nice mustardy undertone. The other three sauces were not that special, just plain old boring red, thick, and spicy sauces. But then a problem arose – the pork came with Sweet’n’Zesty sauce already poured over it. Again, the question is yelled at the BBQ world: Why, oh why, do you think that I want my pork pre-conditioned with sauce? Let me decide what to pour on it, especially when you have six sauces to choose from! Carramba!
So it was inevitable to mix those two sauces, at least for parts of the pork. Which was reasonably tender, but also had big flakes of fat and gristle in it – not my favorite texture. It also tasted not so much wood-smoked than infused with bacon flavor.
The baked beans were also only so-so, with a taste straight out of a supermarket can. The Mac’n’Cheese on the other hand, while not being anything close to a revelation, were at least interesting, with green chili and corn in it.
For all that, and bottomless refills on my soft drink, which I certainly needed, I paid a bit more than fifteen bucks. Not the cheapest BBQ meal I ever had, and certainly not with the quality to warrant that price. Next time I am in El Paso, I will stick to the real local cuisine – maybe there is a place where they have two different menus, one for the locals and one for us tourists with actually edible stuff on it. Carramba!

1 comment:

  1. Famous Daves is originally from Wisconsin. You could have done much better in Texas than Famous daves. I tried one in Chicago once. NEVER AGAIN